18 October 2012, Thursday, Hong Kong Theatre, 6:30pm - 8:00pm
Speakers: Professor Antony Kapcia, Prossor Hal Klepak, Professor Carlos Alzugaray Treto; Chair: Dr Piers Ludlow
This public discussion was organised by LSE IDEAS with the cooperation of the Institute for the Study of the Americas to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It presented a Cuba-centric perspective of the crisis, as an alternative to the standard narrative that focuses on the superpowers. To this end, specialists on Cuban history came to IDEAS from the UK, Canada, and Cuba.
Professor Antoni Kapcia questioned the usual depiction of Cuba as a mere pawn in the international affairs of the superpowers. Rather than being an unwaveringly obedient client state of the Soviet Union, Cuba was in fact guided primarily by national interests such as the protection of its sovereignty. By analysing Cuban newspapers from the time of the crisis, Professor Kapcia showed how the discourse was characterised by national sovereignty and defiance, rather than communist solidarity. He concluded that this crisis showed Cuba that the Soviet Union would not protect them at all costs, which further strengthened national sentiment in Cuba.
Professor Hal Klepak then analysed the crisis from the perspective of military history. He showed that Cuba was aware of its vulnerability to an American invasion, and that it could not realistically defeat the United States in a conflict. Castro therefore adopted the strategy of strengthening the Cuban military to the point that it would make any American intervention on the island dissuasively costly for the United States. This strategy allowed Cuba to mobilise a militia of over a quarter of a million persons in a single day, on 22 October. He concluded that despite generally being overlooked in accounts of the crisis, the Cuban military was actually in a position be an effective factor in the calculation of both superpowers during the crisis.
Dr. Carlos Alzugaray Treto then examined Cuba’s foreign policy priorities at the time of the crisis. He argued that the island’s overarching strategy was to deter American intervention by convincing the United States leadership that any invasion of Cuba would be very costly. He added that the acceptance of Soviet intermediate-range missiles on Cuban soil was consistent with this strategy of deterrence. He concluded that this national strategy, rather than unconditional solidarity between Havana and Moscow, had determined Cuba’s actions during the crisis.